Some people believe if they run to stay fit they'll end up with joint problems and osteoarthritis. Is there any truth to this idea?
There's very little evidence that running increases the risk of joint problems or osteoarthritis later in life. In a study published in JAMA in 1986, researchers found no increased risk of clinical osteoarthritis among a group of middle-aged runners compared to a control group. More good news. These runners enjoyed higher bone-densities than their sedentary counterparts – one of the many health benefits of running.
Most recent studies suggest that running not only doesn't increase the risk of joint problems, it actually prevents them. It strengthens the ligaments that support the joints, and it keeps the cartilage healthy by supplying it with greater oxygen and nutrients. Some studies show that runners have thicker, healthier cartilage in their knees. They also have a lower risk of disability than do couch potatoes, which is not surprising considering the many health benefits of running.
Running may not be harmful to joints, but improper technique and running too much too soon can lead to painful stress fractures. These tiny cracks in the bone, usually the shinbone, happen when runners try to log too many miles too quickly. Runners with well-developed calves have stronger shinbones and are less likely to experience a stress fracture from running – so it pays to strengthen the calf muscles.
Get a quality pair of running shoes with good foot and ankle support, and vary the surfaces you run on. Do calf-strengthening exercises such as calf-raises to strengthen the muscle that surrounds the shinbone to reduce the risk of stress fractures – and make sure you're using good running form to get the health benefits of running - and avoid injury.
Running won't increase your risk of osteoarthritis, but it can increase your risk of stress fractures and overuse injuries. To prevent this, wear proper shoes, and use good form. Enjoy the many health benefits of running, but don't overdo it. Increase your distance gradually, and don't run more often than every other day.